Tuesday, October 29, 2019

How Can We Prevent California Wildfires?

The conditions that cause enormously destructive wind/fire storms -  lack of rain and dry winds - occur virtually every year, and may be getting worse.  We can't stop wildfires from occurring but we can fix the problems that turn a wild fire into a firestorm.   

PG&E is where a lot of fingers are pointing.  There is no question PG&E, like all corporations, and many people, finds it hard to spend money on long term public safety in the face of short term desires to maximize profits and executive bonuses.  PG&E is justifiably in bankruptcy for their negligent practices and are not be be excused.

But we shouldn't lose sight of all the other factors that play as big a part, or perhaps a bigger part in these disasters.

The fires generate massive fires storms because big parts of the State are undeveloped land.  Over the decades they develop huge "fuel loads" - overgrown forests and underbrush that are ideal incubators for a fire storm.

Who owns all this land?  Why don't we require landowners to reduce the fuel load regularly?  It could cost a lot less to create a mechanism to enforce fuel load reduction than it does to fight and then clean up the mess after one of these huge fires.

Probably a lot of the land is owned by investors who are essentially parking wealth in an asset that is indestructible and costs them little.  Their will be objections about intrusive government and personal freedom.  But I submit this is an area where the tension between individual rights and community safety should tilt heavily towards community protection.  

By letting these landowners ignore fuel overloads on their land we are allowing them to impose enormous costs in fire fighting, loss of life and property destruction on other people and government while they wait to reap a profit from selling their land.  

Reducing fuel overload doesn't have to be a huge expense, some local governments have taken to hiring goat herds to graze off the underbrush.

What is foreseeable can be mitigated  We need to be willing to spend some money on fuel load reduction and enforcement if we want to reduce the size and destructive power to these fall firestorms.

No comments: